Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 
JLA/Titans: Invasion!
by Syl Francis

Chapter Twenty-Five

Illogical! Illogical! Illogical!

The ship's AI was trapped in logic loop. The energy life-form defeated the illusion program. The AI would no longer be able to absorb its fearsome energies into the ship's systems. Worse, a new threat seemed to have appeared out of no where capable of deflecting and redirecting the massive objects that the ship's defenses launched at the smaller intruder.

If the AI had been capable of feeling despair, at this moment it might have been seeing the beginning of the end.


"Let's go," GL said encompassing the group in his emerald aura. The next thing they knew, they were all back in the Avenger's control room.

The first person Robin saw was Batman.

"What are you doing out of bed?" he cried.

"What I came to do," Batman replied without pausing. Robin glared at the back of his mentor's head, but bit back his reply. There wasn't time to argue.

"Where's Wonder Doll?" Speedy asked. Without replying, Kid Flash flipped on the forward monitors. To the others' shock, the young Amazon was steadily batting back the incoming boulder-sized objects.

"I think her batting average this inning has been about a thousand," Kid Flash quipped. "Well, nine hundred, anyway, 'cause she let a few get by her."

"I'd give her a hand, but I don't believe she needs it," GL replied. "Batman, I assume you're working on the codes. How's it coming?"

"Done. Here…" he handed Robin a disk. "It'll be better if it's programmed directly into the ship's Forward Command Console. That way we don't run the risk of losing communications in the middle of the data transfer. If this works, the alien AI's primary program should be circumvented. At that point, we should be able to reason with it sufficiently to stop its attack on Earth."

"What if it doesn't work?" GA asked the question on everyone's mind.

"Then we destroy it," GL said. "This thing's too dangerous for us to allow its to continued existence. It has no sense of empathy, kindness, or justice. It's a thing…! And after what it put me through, it would be very easy for me to hate it, but…" he paused, his eyes hooded. "…But there's no point in hating something that does what it does without malice…it simply exists…follows its primary program."

GL drew himself to his full height. His emerald aura instantly enveloped him. "But if I have anything to say about it, one way or another, this ship will not continue in its present state much longer."

Batman stood slowly. He was visibly struggling to remain on his feet. With a cry, Robin ran to him and immediately offered support.

"You're hurt! You should be in bed! Please! I promise we'll take care of everything…you don't have to worry. I give you my word!"

Batman looked down at Robin, his grim demeanor softening slightly. He hesitantly placed his hand on Robin's shoulder and gave him a reassuring squeeze.

"I'll be all right, chum…I know that I have to sit this one out. But before everyone goes off in different directions, here's the plan…"


Robin worked feverishly at the Command Console. He felt weird…everything was green. It was almost like being back in GL's dream, but this time the Emerald Knight was consciously protecting the young Titan with his Ring's aura. If the reprogramming didn't work--!

Neither wanted to think about that…


Kid Flash and Aqualad zipped through the ship's corridors at rates the junior speedster wouldn't dare with a non-superpowered passenger. Both wore exo-suits just in case they ran into trouble; however, Batman's comlink kept them constantly apprised of corridors that still retained an atmosphere.

Their mission was both dangerous and necessary: they were placing mini-charges of a special gelignite explosive along the ship's main axis. With the numerous charges that the boys had to carry, the easiest method of transport was to have the gel-charges trail in Kid Flash's wake. It was also risky.

Once, they slipped into a corridor that they'd gotten the green light on, but a second into it, they discovered that while the corridor might still have an atmosphere, it did not have gravity. It took Kid Flash some fancy reverse footwork to keep from slamming them into the farthest bulkhead.

With a little more effort, which was brought on by sheer desperation, the teens were able to recover the explosives before their momentum sent them careening towards the far end of the corridor. The youngsters exchanged relieved looks once they'd safely retrieved the gel-charges.

"Next time," Aqualad gasped as they were about to get going again, "I'll swim."

From that point on, they approached each new turn with extreme caution. Kid Flash might be able to vibrate through walls, but not with Aqualad. And definitely not with the explosives.


Wonder Girl waited for the next 'fast pitch.' Five minutes …ten…After fifteen minutes of no new missiles, she contacted the Avenger.

"Avenger, this is Wonder Girl."

"Go ahead, Little Princess," GA replied.

"I think the giant ship's tired of the game. He seems to have collected his balls and gone home."

GA chuckled slightly. "Guess you're the new World Series champ, kid. Come on in. There's someone here who's mighty anxious to see you."

Wonder Girl smiled. "I'm on my way, GA. WG out."

When the airlock opened, Speedy stood waiting. Wonder Girl ran into his arms.

A few minutes later, they headed towards the command section.

"Hey, you think you can show me how to hit an inside curve ball?" he asked.


As the program downloaded, Robin stood anxiously watching GL. The Emerald Knight did not look himself. The older hero had been through so much in the past few days; Robin wondered if he'd make it through the next few hours.

"Sir?" Robin said tentatively. GL looked down at the junior hero. "Everything's going to be okay. You'll see. Batman's program will work…I know it will."

GL smiled. "You're a good kid, Robin. It's been a pleasure working with you and the Titans. You're real heroes." The signal sounded indicating the download was complete. Robin hurried back to the command console.

"Avenger, this is Robin."

"Avenger here. Go ahead, Boy Wonder," Speedy's voice came over the intercom.

"Download complete. Prepare to transport back to--"

Zzzzzzssssshhhttttzzz…

"Robin?"

No reply, just static.

"Robbie, you there?"

Static…

"Robin, come in…Robin, this is the Avenger…come in! Robbie? Green Lantern…come in…Someone…come in!"

Speedy's agitated voice echoed in the empty Forward Command Center…


"I tell you it turned!" Black Canary shouted. "It did not follow the normal pattern!"

"…"

"Atom? Hey, Mighty Mouse, you still there?"

"Yeah, I'm here, BC…And don't worry, I believe you…JLA, this is the Atom. Heads up, people. Look at your long range sensors…!"

"Great Hera!"

"Great Krypton!"

"Poseidon, help us!"

"Now that I have your attention…You guessed it! There's been a slight change of plans. The armada is regrouping. Somehow it's reformed its attack formation. It's no longer on the practice fire mode…"

"It's returned to its invasion pattern," the Flash said. "This is it, team…This could be the end."

"They must've failed somehow," BC added quietly. The others knew she meant their teammates at the edge of the galaxy.

"Then, we must not fail, as well," Aquaman's powerful commanding voice cut through the comlink chatter.

With that, the World's Greatest Heroes grimly faced the invader for the final battle.


"…And that's when we lost contact," Speedy explained. The Dark Knight didn't reply, he simply continued running a systems diagnostic.

"Sir, there's nothing wrong with the equipment," Wonder Girl said quietly. "I've already checked it. Several times."

Batman finally swung the command chair around and faced the others. GA, Speedy, and Wonder Girl waited for his reaction.

"I'm going after them."

GA burst into incredulous laughter. The two teens looked up at him in surprise. "Sorry, Bats, but you ain't going nowhere. Me'n my partner, here," he said indicating Speedy, we're going after 'em…You're staying here and finishing up the final prep job."

Batman didn't reply. He just stood to his full height, looking even more grim. GA snorted.

"And don't give me the big-bad Bat pose, either. You're weaker'n a sick kitten and you know it. If you go after the kid and GL, you'll get yourself and maybe them killed. What good'll that do, except maybe ease your conscience 'bout the kid being out here? And don't try to deny your feelings…I think I know what I'm talking about." He said the last with a mild sideways glance at Speedy.

"Let's go, partner," GA said not taking his eyes off Batman. As he and Speedy turned to go, GA addressed Wonder Girl. "Little Princess, if the Bat even tries to follow us…sit on him." He gave her a rakish grin. "And you can take that as an order from a duly deputized member of the JLA."

"Don't you think you should know where you're going first?" Batman asked. Speedy and GA paused, looking suspicious. "I traced an unknown energy source from the Forward Command Area to a new location in the ship's midsection…Where Kid Flash and Aqualad have been working."

"You mean, where Kid Flash and Aqualad have been wiring the ship to blow," Speedy said. It was not a question.

Batman nodded. GA and Speedy exchanged glances.

"Terrific," Speedy said rolling his eyes.


Kid Flash and Aqualad dematerialized as they were rounding a corner. A few moments later, they rematerialized in a strange, emerald world.

"What happened?" Kid Flash asked.

"Not again…!" Aqualad moaned.

Their comlink beeped. Batman's icy voice came over it.

"Avenger to Kid Flash and Aqualad…"


The Emerald Archers materialized in a land that seemed to have been made for them. Lush green met the eye as far as they could see.

"Know something, kid?" GA asked. Speedy looked up him, his eyebrow quirked questioningly. "This is almost enough to make me hate the color."

Speedy's mouth twitched. "Do you have any idea where we're supposed to--?" Beep beep beep…

"Avenger to GA." Batman's cold voice had never sounded so welcoming.


Robin was fit to be tied. Or rather, he was tied, and he was having a fit. He struggled uselessly against his bonds. The emerald energy held him immobilized and seemed to increase the more he fought against it.

Parallax! But different somehow. Robin wasn't entirely sure, but he felt that this wasn't the same Parallax they'd defeated before. Maybe he'd learned from his mistakes, but there seemed to be more than that.

It didn't make any difference at the moment. Robin was tied-up, in a cage, suspended from a gallows. And insult to injury, scrolling banner headlines proclaimed: A bird in hand is worth two in the bush!!

This was followed by a Smiley Face.

"Robin the Boy Hostage," he muttered in self-disgust. He gave his bond another frustrated tug, his biceps aching from the effort. When he and GL first appeared in this new green world, they'd been immediately ambushed. GL was knocked unconscious, and Robin disposed of in the most humiliating way possible--with one of the Joker's old tricks.

"All I need now is for Batman to suddenly appear and rescue me."

"Will we do?"

Robin looked down. Kid Flash and Aqualad! They were standing beneath him on the gallows' platform.

"Boy, am I glad to see you guys!" Robin hissed. "Do you have anything to counter the Ring energy? That Parallax-guy even removed my cape!"

"Who's Parallax?" asked Kid Flash, giving Aqualad a boost up. The Atlantean studied the locking mechanism thoughtfully.

"Parallax is GL's evil twin brother, Skippy," Robin said sharply. "Never mind that…get me out of here!"

"Hold on," Aqualad said. "There--!" Aqualad said triumphantly, successfully opening the cage door. He soon climbed into the cage alongside Robin. "Kid Flash, be ready. When I untie Robin, the illusion is going to suddenly collapse." Kid Flash nodded in understanding.

"What--?" Robin began.

Suddenly, Robin's arms were free. As he flexed his biceps, the energy 'ropes' suddenly loosened and faded into nothingness. Simultaneously, the gallows disappeared as well, and the teen heroes found themselves falling.

However, Kid Flash was ready, and immediately used his speed powers to work up a whirlwind, which softened their landing.

Safely on the ground, Robin stretched, loosening the stiffness in his muscles. He looked at Aqualad curiously. "What'd you do, Aqualad? 'Wish' it all away? 'Cause I never wished harder for anything in my life, but nothing worked."

Aqualad grinned and shook his head 'no.' "Unlike before, we are not in one of GL's mind-induced dreams. This is an Emerald Power Ring reality. Which means--"

"--Which means that our physical laws are in full effect," Robin finished for him. Aqualad nodded. "So how did you manage to counter the Ring's energy?"

Aqualad smiled and held up his golden 'A' belt buckle. "It 'sliced' through the cage's locking mechanism and through your bonds. The gold in the belt buckle negated the Ring's energy."

Robin grinned, duly impressed. "Way cool!" He checked his own belt buckle. It, too, was gold. As the Titans moved off, he asked, "How'd you guys get here?"

"Batman," Kid Flash explained.

"Oh." Robin sighed. Even when Batman didn't actually rescue him, he had a hand in it. No wonder he'd always be just a kid in Batman's eyes.

Their comlink began its signature beeping…


"This way." GA spoke tersely. He read the JLA hand-held locater again. "According to ol' Grim and Grumpy, the highest concentration of energy emissions should be just over that ridge. Speedy nodded. Unlike before, he couldn't just 'wish' for some kind of magical transport. He and GA had to actually walk to where they needed to go…


"There it is," Robin said, pointing. Ahead of them was a scene straight out of The Wizard of Oz. Grinning he looked at Aqualad. "I guess we're really not in--"

"Please don't say--"

"Kansas anymore!" Robin and Kid Flash finished together.

"--it!" Aqualad hit his forehead with the heel of his palm. Before them lay an exact duplicate of the Emerald City. At any moment, the boys expected to see Dorothy, the Lion, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow.

Instead of red poppies, however, fields of jade flowers, dancing in the soft green sunshine and warm spring breeze, carpeted the grounds to the farthest horizon.

"There's gotta be a zillion of 'em," Kid Flash said awed. "Like stars in the Milky Way." The others looked at him in mild surprise. He returned their look in embarrassment, his face turning slightly red. He shrugged. Spotting movement along the skyline where the ridge of deep green poppies met the lighter green of the sky, he pointed. "Look! We've got company!"

He waved. The two figures--Speedy and Green Arrow--waved back.


"They've rendezvoused," Batman said. "You know what to do." Wonder Girl nodded, a bit timidly.

"Yes, sir," she said with a confidence she didn't feel. Batman didn't say anything. Wonder Girl took that as a dismissal and moved to her new post at the Avenger's weapons console.


"Atom! On your tail!" the Flash warned. "Roll Right!"

Atom spun his cruiser to port. The space he'd just been occupying filled with the deadly particle beams as his teammates fired at the approaching enemy vessel. The alien erupted in a mini-nova.


"Best way is a two-pronged attack," GA surmised. "Speedy and me, we go in the back way, you Titans take the direct route." He turned to go. No one moved. The others were all looked at Robin, who stood with his arms crossed in a defiant pose.

GA turned back. He gazed curiously at the young hero. "Do you have a better idea?"

"Yes, sir," Robin said simply.

GA was about ready to say something, when he caught Speedy's narrowed eyes. His junior partner was studying him silently. GA's next words would be critical, he suddenly knew. He felt momentarily at a loss. He didn't want to lose Speedy's respect so shortly after he'd gotten it back. What approach to take?

Taking a deep breath, he threw caution to the wind and nodded at Robin.

"I'm listening, kid." As Robin began to explain his plan, GA risked a glance at Speedy. His young protege's small, satisfied smile gave GA a warm feeling…


"This isn't some fevered dream," GL said. He was once again shackled to the hated apparatus. "You're real. But how--?"

Parallax grinned.

"You, my emerald friend. You made me…oh, not you, personally. It was quite accidental, mind you. I admit that I took this form based on your own subconscious fears." He paused. "I suppose that if it were the Dark One strapped there at this moment, I might've taken the form of his father…or better, yet, his mother." Parallax laughed.

"You biological life-forms are quite fascinating: You exhibit a powerful drive to succeed, to keep going, to win at all costs. Yet, there is a certain weakness within you. A desire to 'play fair'. You are nothing at all like my builders. You're much more unpredictable!"

GL was shocked. "What--? You mean you're the alien ship's Artificial Intelligence? The program we downloaded into your system…it gave you sentience…free will?"

Parallax nodded, his grin broadening even further.

Abruptly, his face darkened. "I should have been able to destroy you long before now, but you keep countering my efforts with highly illogical moves--"

"You mean 'unexpected'!" GL taunted. "Even with sentience and free will, you haven't the slightest idea how to use it to its greatest advantage. You're so used to remaining within the given parameters of your programming that you're incapable of more than two-dimensional thinking. And despite what you think…we will succeed!"

Parallax chortled in amazement. "You are fascinating creatures. I almost wish I had the curiosity to study your race further. But I don't have the time. I've universes to conquer and inferior races to subjugate. And with this--" He held out GL's Power Ring. It was held in a stasis field within Parallax's own green beam. "--The outcome is a foregone conclusion."

He shook his head in disbelief.

"So much power…The very energies of creation itself are imbedded within this outwardly unremarkable bauble…Yet, you do not utilize it for personal gain. Instead, you hold back on its abilities, barely tapping into its full potential. I'm afraid that this inherent weakness of your race will bring about your eventual downfall. I can't believe that you actually gave me sentience in order to 'Talk'!"

Outraged, GL shouted, "And this is how you use such a gift? By destroying?"

"Of course!" Parallax said laughing. "Peace? My race does not know such concepts. What rubbish! The NUL^~HT+N don't barter for peace. The only peaceful race is a dead race. And I assure you that the Krghlm and many others have discovered this."

"But, the Krghlm were a race of space-faring pirates. They destroyed countless numbers of the early races. Legends talk about another race that went to war with them for over a millennia…to stop their incessant trail of death. I don't understand. If your race fought to stop the Krghlm, why are you following in their bloody footsteps?"

Parallax burst into laughter at GL's tale.

"The NUL^~HT+N did not war against the Krghlm in order to bring peace to the early races. We fought for the position of predominance over the lesser civilizations. The Krghlm were the only peoples with the technology and desire to conquer others…the same as we. Naturally, we couldn't stand by and allow them to pillage the very star systems that we ourselves wished to conquer."

He smiled. GL felt a cold chill shoot down his spine.

"Once the Krghlm were destroyed, the universe was ours for the taking. On occasion we'd discover a new race we'd never encountered before and we'd send it a test message. If we did not receive the proper response, we'd automatically destroy it."

"But why? If the new race wasn't Krghlm, or had never heard of your war, why destroy them? Why not make friends?"

Parallax laughed at the absurdity of the thought. "Friends? We do not make friends with inferior races. We take! We conquer! And if the whim should strike us, we annihilate." He shrugged. "Why run the risk of angering a young race that may later develop the technology to destroy us in some distant future? Better to rid the universe of…undesirables."

GL shook his head. The enormity of what they'd done, in their desire to 'Play Fair,' had finally sunk in. They'd released an even greater horror than what they'd faced before.


Robin and Speedy moved stealthily through the endlessly green corridors. The green hue throughout the Emerald City was the same throughout. The boys found themselves narrowly missing tables, chairs and other furnishings.

"It's like being inside a giant green camouflage tent! Everything's blending together!" Speedy complained. "I'm getting all cross-eyed."

Robin grinned. He knew exactly what Speedy was going through. "I thought that 'green' was you Arrow-guys' favorite color."

Speedy's grin matched Robin. "If I never see the color again, it'll be too soon!"

Both youngsters let out boyish snickers. "Maybe GA will change over to gold or something," Robin opined.

"Yeah, I can it now," Speedy said. "Yellow Arrow! Won't exactly strike fear in the hearts of criminals." He paused. "Not that GA's all that fearsome now, but he does have his moments--"

Robin held up a hand for quiet. He studied his handheld locator. He nodded at Speedy. This was it…


Superman moved at speeds that even he had never achieved before. One second he was near Mars' two moons, the next instant, he was on the other side of the sun, melting yet another scout's warp engines into slag.

He didn't know how much longer he'd be able to continue. He'd been fighting for what seemed like ages. He was growing exhausted.

And if he were tiring, then what of the others--?


Aquaman anticipated Wonder Woman's next move. As she spun their cruiser 'down' on the z-axis, he instantly set the weapons to a 360 degree firing pattern that took out any pursuers.

Wonder Woman and Aquaman were now a veteran team. They'd been working together since the start of the battle, and experience had honed their skills.

"Great shooting, Arthur!" Wonder Woman yelled.

"Nice flying, Diana," he said, returning the compliment.


"Barry! We're hit! We're hit!" Black Canary cried.

"Losing atmosphere," the Flash's voice calmly reported. "Hull integrity at forty percent. Remember the drill, BC…mask first, then exo-suit." He was beside her in an instant, already suited. He quickly assisted BC in donning hers.

"Barry!" the Atom's worried voice came over the open channel.

"We're okay, buddy," the Flash responded. "Just taking some extra-precautions. We've lost life support…care to take on some hitchhikers?"

"Depends…what's your destination?"

"Why same as yours, Ray," the Flash said good-humoredly. "Didn't I read somewhere that the road paved with good intentions leads to Hell?"

"…" They heard a choking sound from the other end. "Funny guy," Atom said ironically. "Get ready for transport, before I change my mind."


"You'll never get away with this," GL said calmly. "Even if you kill me, the others--"

"--The others are nothing!" Parallax scoffed. "I will defeat them shortly."

"Oh, really?" GL's eyes lit in amusement. "You haven't exactly defeated them, yet. That's hardly 'nothing'."

Parallax scowled thunderously. In fury, he pressed a button on the torture apparatus and held it down.

GL felt his head explode in piercing, blinding agony. In the background, he could hear Parallax roaring in outrage. The knife-like pain in his head blocked most of his evil twin's megalomaniacal rantings, but GL heard enough to strive to retain consciousness.

"Temerity…sub-races…exist only to be exploited…conquered…!"

Long before Parallax finally released the button, GL lost his personal battle and blacked out from the ordeal.


"Robin to GA."

"GA, here. How's it going kid?"

"We're in. Robin out."

GA stared at the comlink. "Just like his old man," he muttered. "Let's go, boys. Can't be the cavalry if we don't arrive in the nick of time."

"Huh?" Kid Flash and Aqualad gave him blank looks. GA ignored them, studying the handheld locator. The readings were indeterminate. They faced what appeared to be an endless number of corridors, with an infinite number of closed doors. He sighed.

"Never mind," GA said, shaking his head. "Kid Flash, I need you to recon up ahead. Find out--"

"--All clear," Kid Flash reported. GA spun around in surprise. "All the rooms are empty," Kid Flash continued. "Just green."

GA closed his eyes. Just like the Flash. All speed. No brain. Well…maybe that wasn't a fair assessment, but still.

"Thanks, Kid," GA mumbled. "Come on, let's go."


"Where are we?" Speedy asked.

"The Auxiliary Command Center," Robin said moving to the nearest command console. "Robin to Avenger…"

"Avenger, here," Batman responded.

"We're in, Batman," Robin said. "I've powered up the ACC. All systems are now online."

"Good work, chum," Batman said. "I'm transmitting the data…Now!"


"Y-you c-can do wh-what y-you w-want with me," GL whispered, swallowing against the dryness in his throat. "B-but w-we…w-we'll never s-s-sur-render…"

"You don't get it!" Parallax guffawed. "I don't want you to surrender! I want to destroy you!" He threw his head back and began to laugh. A cold, evil laugh that filled GL with dark despair.

This was his fault. He was the one who'd pushed for a dialogue. Who didn't want to arbitrarily destroy the alien vessel. He had to do something.

He couldn't…He wouldn't stand by and watch Parallax destroy the Earth.

His planet. His space sector. His responsibility.

An alien invader destroy Earth?

Not on his watch!

Gathering every ounce of strength he had left, GL began to concentrate on the 'outwardly unremarkable bauble' hanging in midair in an emerald stasis field.


"Stop!"

GA and Kid Flash braked to a halt. Both turned to look curiously at Aqualad.

"In here," he said, pointing behind a set of double doors. GA quirked an eyebrow. He checked his locator once more.

"Listen, kid, according to my readings--"

"Your instrument is incorrect…the Emerald energy…it pulsates from behind these doors."

GA and Kid Flash exchanged a look. Kid Flash shrugged. "He is an esper. And he's had experience with GL's energy readings. Maybe your locator's wrong?"

"Okay, Aqualad," GA agreed. "What do you have, kid?"

At that moment, Aqualad's face suddenly grimaced in severe pain. "GL…he's in trouble…in pain! So much pain!"


"Avenger, this is Robin!"

"Avenger, here." Batman answered instantly, as if he'd been waiting for the call.

"We're done here, Batman. We're going to rendezvous with the others."

"Understand, Robin. Watch for the signal." Batman paused and then added, "Good luck, son."

"Thank you, sir…Robin out."

"And just what did we do, Bird-boy?" Speedy asked.

Robin grinned. "We just gave the ship the beginnings of a severe nervous breakdown."

"Huh?"

The boys started heading out at a run.

"The data that Batman just transmitted? It's a virus program," Robin explained. "It's ordering the ship's primary systems to determine the value of Pi to the last decimal point, and to consider all other current command programs as secondary. Soon, the ship's going to start shutting down all nonessential operations in order to solve the problem. Before long--"

"--Before long, more systems will start shutting down, to include essential systems because the virus has tagged them as 'secondary'!" Speedy interrupted, understanding dawning in his eyes.

Robin nodded, letting Speedy work out the possibilities on his own.

"And, because Pi has a non-repeating value which goes on to infinity--" Speedy continued.

"--Hey, you've been paying attention in school." Robin looked proudly at his friend.

"Yeah, the one or two times I've attended," Speedy said with a slight grin, then concluded. "The virus program has given the ship an unsolvable problem. If it works and the ship begins to concentrate all of its computing power to solving it--!" He looked at Robin with respect.

"But how do we know the ship's AI won't find out what we're doing and somehow stop the virus program from taking over the ship's entire system?" Speedy asked.

"The virus is a command level program that'll work below the AI's consciousness. Like our handshake program. Remember?" Speedy nodded. "The AI should remain completely unaware of what's going on underneath its electronic 'nose.' Or at least, that's the plan."

"And if it doesn't work?" Speedy asked.

"Then we go to Plan B."

"And what's Plan B?"

"Don't know yet."

Speedy stared at Robin. Robin shrugged defensively.

"I working on it!"


After Robin cut the comlink, Batman sat still for a couple of seconds. Without preamble, he began powering up the Avenger.

"Strap in," he ordered. Wonder Girl nodded. "Ready weapons," Batman uttered.

"Weapons ready," Wonder Girl replied.

Batman watched his readings carefully. When the warp engines came online, he punched it!


"Whooee, Mighty Mite!" Black Canary shouted. "That there's some fancy flyin'! Now hold her steady while I let 'em feel some of our 'hot lead'!"

"Any time, BC," the Atom responded.

"Watch westerns much, Dinah?" the Flash asked dryly.

"Dad was a real Wild West buff," BC answered, taking out two of the enemy, and then centering her crosshairs on yet another. "Funny, Dad never set foot outside of New York City and wouldn't've known what to do with a horse if he'd seen one."

BC smiled nostalgically as she laid waste to three more of the alien ships. (The Flash privately thought her smile looked frighteningly ferocious as she gleefully dispatched the enemy. He shuddered inwardly.)

"On weekends, if Dad wasn't busy on a case, or if we weren't training at the local gym, we'd sit and watch Saturday afternoon westerns on TV--"

"Atom! Everybody!" Wonder Woman's voice interrupted. "Look at your long range monitors. Something's happening…Can you make it out?"

"Just a sec, Diana," the Atom said. "I'm not sure…Barry, what do you think?"

"Well I'll be a dirty name," the Flash said, awed. "Little buddy, they seem to be…"

"…Turning on each other!!!" they finished together.

"No!" Superman's voice cut in. "They're slamming into each other. They're moving erratically, almost out of control. They seem to have lost their inertial stablizers, or--"

"--Or perhaps they've lost contact with the Mother Ship?" the Atom mused.

"What the hell's going on?" the Flash asked no one in particular.

"The others!" BC cried excitedly. "They're okay! They did this! Somehow, they've turned the armada…! Yeeeeeehhaaaaaww! Boys and girls, everything's gonna be all right!"

"Come on, JLA!" the Flash yelled. "Let's go kick some alien booty!"

"I'm with you, buddy!" the Atom readily responded.


Aqualad collapsed where he'd stood.

"Garth!" Kid Flash was instantly at his friend's side. Aqualad's violet eyes fluttered open.

"GL's in agony," he whispered. "Leave me. Hurry…I will be all right." He closed his eyes again.

Kid Flash's jaws worked in anger. His friends were in pain. And whoever was causing it was behind those doors. Without thinking, the junior speedster began to vibrate at supersonic speeds. Reaching a vibrating speed on a harmonic level to the emerald energy-induced doorways, he launched himself through the doors.

"Kid Flash…No!" shouted GA. Too late! The junior speedster zipped at superspeed through the energy doors.

GA hurried to the locked doors. Great! Another teenager who ignored his orders. "I get no respect," he muttered. He took out a special metallic sliver with a serrated edge. As he put it carefully in the keyhole, the emerald light reflected off of it, a gold skeleton key.

"Bats, I'll never say anything about you again!" He grinned. "Well, hardly ever."


He was swimming in a green ocean. Everywhere he looked he was surrounded by the strange emerald sea.

"~Aquaman!~" he mind-called. "~Mera!~"

There was no answer. He swam on in the green, murky waters.

In the distance he saw a lighter, glowing green. Almost like a light at the end of an underwater tunnel. He swam towards it…


GL found himself in a strange world of violets, lavenders, and purples. Where was he?

He checked his ring finger. Gone! He felt a momentary panic, which passed quickly. The ring was nearby. He could feel its energy. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the ring, and drew from its power. He felt himself physically grow stronger, revived.

He opened his eyes and looked around again. Thinking about the ring, he willed himself to rise up, and before long, he was flying a reconnaissance mission through the lavender land…


As Aqualad approached the green glow, he squinted against the brightness. Using his hands to shade his eyes, he finally made out a figure in the middle of the emerald luminescence. His eyes widened.

"~Green Lantern!~" he cried. He swam towards the Emerald Knight. GL was enclosed in a soft, protective emerald aura. "~GL, what are you doing here?~"

GL floated face down, his eyes closed. "~GL--! GL--! Wake up! Please!~"


He heard someone calling him.

"~GL--! GL--! Wake up! Please!~"

"~Wake up?~" he asked. "~What do you think I am? Asleep?~" Nevertheless, GL opened his eyes and felt like he'd just awakened.

A glowing violet figure stood before him. "~GL! Can you see me?~" GL shaded his eyes.

"~Just barely. Who are you? The Phantom?~" GL referred to a childhood comic book hero.

"~…?~"

"~Never mind. Who are you?~"

"~Aqualad.~"

"~Of course. That would explain the mind-speak,~" GL said, realization dawning. "~Why are you…purple?~"

"~Is that how you perceive me?~"

GL nodded. Aqualad sent a mental shrug. "~I do not know. Speedy said the same thing…All I know is that sometimes, I wake at night, and I know that I've been dreaming of purples and violets…and, remember the strange violet energy beams that I called forth when I was forced to fight you while you were unconscious, and endangering the Avenger?~"

GL nodded.

"~Whatever it is~," Aqualad continued, "~I do not understand it.~"

GL concentrated on the boy. He sent out a mental tendril and gently touched Aqualad's violet essence.

"~Yeowch!~" he yelped in surprise. "~What was that?~" At GL's touch, Aqualad's true form suddenly appeared before him. The teen's strange, violet eyes were wide with shock. GL moved closer to the youthful Atlantean, studying him closely.

"Son, your personal aura…your purple shield, for want of a better word…It's comprised of powerful energies…I sense strange energy patterns emanating from you.~" GL shook his head in awe. "~I've never seen anything like it!~"

Aqualad stared with uncomprehending eyes. "~I don't know what you're talking about, GL. Honestly.~"

GL nodded sagely. "~Son, listen to me. Somewhere inside of you is a nascent power struggling to get out. A power that even now is building in strength. I don't know what it is, but if you defeated me once before, even in my dreams, then it has to be incredibly powerful.~"

GL's soft brown eyes steadily held Aqualad's violet ones. "~I think, Aqualad, that this power of yours has just become our secret weapon.~"


GA was disgusted with himself. He'd been immobilized as soon as he'd entered. Kid Flash and GL were both unconscious and held prisoner on an apparatus similar to the one from which they'd rescued Batman.

And similar to the one that held him now. He tugged uselessly at his shackles.

"Great! It's not even green. The first thing I've seen that's real and I wish it were all a dream."

"Cheer up, Green Arrow," Parallax roared. "It will soon be your worst nightmare!" He pressed a button.

GA screamed in pain.


"GA!" Speedy yelled. They'd heard the blood-curdling scream coming from down the main corridor. They poured on the speed.

"Speedy! Hold up!" Robin hissed when they reached the spot from where they'd heard the screams. Using hand signals, Robin indicated that he wanted Speedy to stand to the side. He tried the door handle. Locked.

Removing his belt buckle from his utility belt, he threw it at the door. As soon as the gold buckle hit the green energy doors, they disintegrated before the boys' eyes.

"Go!" Robin shouted.


When the warp engines fired inside the enclosed space of the giant cargo bay, several things happened:

First, real time space 'warped' inside the bay, causing the space to implode. The interior of the bay collapsed in on itself, the bulkheads crumbling. The support I-beams that Wonder Girl used earlier as a baseball bat crumpled.

Second, with the inside of the bay imploding in on itself, the giant bay doors, unable to withstand the impossible pressures to which they were suddenly being subjected, blew outwardly.

Third, when the bay doors opened, Batman shut the warp engines, and transferred to the sub-light impeller drive. He hit the forward thrusters, and the Avenger escaped from its alien prison.

Less than five seconds passed from the moment he fired the warp engines, to the moment the Avenger escaped.

"Ready?" he asked.

"Ready!" Wonder Girl replied.

"Fire!!"


Speedy and Robin entered the room at a full run. Experience is a great teacher. Without breaking stride, Robin grabbed Speedy's yellow cap, snapped it to a Batarang, and leaping high, he threw it directly at Parallax's chest…


GL tightly gripped Aqualad's hand in his own. "~You must trust me, son. Open your mind to me…open your mind…~"

"~Trust you~," Aqualad whispered. "~Trust you…~"

Completely relaxed and trusting Green Lantern, Aqualad dropped his mind shields and left himself totally open to the Emerald Warrior's far more disciplined and powerful will.

"~Together…Violet and Green energies…concentrate, son…concentrate…~"

"~Together…concentrate…violet and green…~" repeated Aqualad.


"Speedy!" Robin called. "Watch!" He whipped out three Batarangs and whirled them at the apparatuses' control panels. Knowing immediately what he had to do, Speedy fired off explosive arrow after explosive arrow. Within seconds, only smoke and sparks remained of the complicated electronics.

With the brains of the torture machines gone, first GA, then Kid Flash regained consciousness. Speedy saw that Kid Flash couldn't vibrate free from his shackles. He fired off four specially tipped arrows.

The arrowheads were actually suction cups. When they struck Kid Flash's wristbands, they adhered themselves to each. Before Kid Flash knew what was happening, the suction cups began to hiss and a special acid started eating its way through the bands. Kid Flash's eyes widened. He'd have to move at superspeed to avoid being burned.

Meanwhile, Robin leaped onto GA's machine with his pen-laser and quickly freed him. "Let's go, GA!" Robin urged.

"You little fool," Parallax shouted in outrage. "You should've remained where I left you. You defeated my plans once before, but not again!" He turned the full brunt of his powerful Emerald beam at the fleeing heroes.

Dodging Parallax's deadly beam, Robin's eye caught something gold glittering on the floor. He quickly executed a series of complicated handsprings, spins, and leaps. In a final desperate move, Robin rolled towards the object, grabbed it, and came up throwing…!


"~Now, Aqualad!~"

Aqualad's violent purple energies enhanced with GL's powerful will focused on the Emerald Power Ring suspended in stasis in midair…


The ship worked feverishly on solving the equation that had been set before it. It needed more operating power and thus began shutting down 'nonessential' systems. Throughout the ship, hatches began slamming shut, cutting off entire sections of the ship from others.

Soon, the ship began shutting life support systems in areas that were unoccupied. Next, it began diverting essential systems from their primary function of fighting a war. The Fire Acquisition Center began to add its powerful computing power to solving the unsolvable problem set before it.

The ship's engine room computers began shutting down the 'nonessential' programs needed to operate the ship's massive warp core…


Parallax felt something small strike his chest. He suddenly felt like one of the biological life-forms he'd scoffed at earlier who were having a heart attack.

He looked at his chest. Embedded in his Lantern emblem was a small, gold belt buckle. The emerald surroundings began phasing in and out. Parallax finally realized that the ship's systems were being tied up with an impossible task. He 'felt' a momentary confusion. What was happening?

"Illogical! Illogical! I am the superior construct--!"

Parallax felt his knees begin to give way…


A sudden flash of purple energy overwhelmed the weak remains of the Emerald energy illusion.

Time slowed.

The Emerald City began to lose definition around the heroes. It continued to phase erratically in and out around them. And Parallax appeared to be melting!

"Like the Wicked Witch," Robin muttered softly. Soon, they found themselves in the same giant bay from which they'd rescued Batman earlier. Except for the torture apparatuses, it was empty.

Furthermore, the emerald energy had been replaced with a soft lavender glow.

"It must've all been some kind of elaborate illusion," Speedy said. As he spoke, the purple haze slowly faded, as well.

GL's ring broke free from its prison, and flew straight towards its master's ring finger.

As soon as it settled in, Green Lantern's eyes fluttered open.

"No," whispered Parallax. "I am the superior construct. I am eternal. You cannot defeat me." There was almost nothing left of him.

"Can't isn't in my vocabulary," GL said grimly.


GL's ring encompassed them all within its protective energy. Aqualad was still unconscious. So far, he'd been the only casualty.

Robin's comlink beeped. The signal!

"Now!" he called. GL nodded and they all immediately flew up and through the massive ship's numerous bulkheads until they reached the dark silence of space.

Robin and the Titans looked around in awe. He couldn't believe that they were outside in the vacuum of space with only GL's power ring for protection. GL flew them at incredible rates, reaching near sub-light speed. But within the protective cocoon of the Emerald atmosphere bubble, they were snug and warm.

Finally, they spotted it! The Avenger! No, not the Avenger, but one just like her! It was the JLA cruiser that Batman and GA had used to get out here. Robin had completely forgotten about it!

But where was the Avenger? As if in anticipation of his question, GL pointed starboard. There! The Avenger! But what was she doing? The ship was on a collision course with the alien. More than a collision course, Robin realized. She was on full ramming speed!

"Batman--!" he cried.

But they'd already entered the second JLA cruiser, slipping in through the bulkheads as if they didn't exist…


Robin ran into the command center. Wonder Girl was at weapons. And sitting in the command seat--

"Batman!" he cried. It was a shout of pure joy. Batman pointed at the co-pilot's seat by way of acknowledgement. Robin quickly strapped himself in, and began calling out readings.

"Get everyone strapped in," Batman ordered.

"Roger! Robin to all hands! Strap in, everybody! We're going to warp in…" He checked the engine countdown. "…fifteen seconds!" He waited to the count of ten, then counted down…

"…Three…two…"

As Robin called out 'two', Batman called out, "Now!" and Wonder Girl punched a switch on her console.

"…One!"

At 'one', the pilotless Avenger entered one of the many open bays that the alien ship had so conveniently provided for her. As the JLA cruiser's warp engines came online, Robin saw a series of violent explosions erupting from inside the open bay that the Avenger had entered.

Robin knew immediately that the Avenger's warp core must have been set to overload. He felt a momentary twinge at the loss of 'his' ship.

Further down the alien's midsection, another series of explosions began ripping her apart from the inside. The gel-charges that Kid Flash and Aqualad had set earlier! Wonder Girl must have set them of remotely from her weapons console.

As the JLA cruiser went into warp, Robin caught sight of the giant alien listing to starboard, explosion after explosion tearing her hull in thousands of places…


They hovered one AU from the alien to ensure its total destruction. Finally, when its enormous warp core breached and reached overload, the heroes witnessed the end of the Last of the NUL^~HT+N.

The Milky Way Galaxy's edge became the momentary celestial home of a blazing nova.

The Titans watched in awe. They were drawn, yet appalled by the destructive forces that had been released.

"What a waste," Robin said at last.

"Yeah," Speedy agreed.

"I don't get it," added Kid Flash. "If GL offered it friendship, why would it choose war instead?"

Aqualad shook his head, and Wonder Girl shrugged her shoulders. Clearly, the youngsters couldn't understand.

"I'm afraid that we'll probably never be able to fully explain it," GL said. "But as long as youngsters such as yourselves can question something as senseless as this and try to seek answers, then I believe that the Earth will always be in good hands."

The Titans looked at GL, then at one another. Without another word, they all turned back to view the new, temporary star…


Epilogue

"I tell you, kid, things are going to be different…you just wait and see!" Green Arrow slapped Speedy on the back. They were all inside the JLA satellite's docking bay, waiting for the "Green light" announcing equalized pressurization.

Speedy nodded and smiled a bit uncertainly. He'd heard this before. But maybe this time.

GA was still talking. "And we'll have to talk about a curfew…and I mean a real curfew. It's not right for a kid your age to be running around at all hours of the night…!"

Speedy looked over at Batman and Robin. The Dark Knight and his protege were talking quietly. Batman was probably discussing how they could've saved the universe a little bit more efficiently, for the next time the Earth was invaded, Speedy thought ironically. But even from where he stood, Speedy could see the quiet rapport between the Caped Crusaders.

"And school," GA continued. "We're gonna see about hiring a tutor, or something, to try and get those grades up…I mean maybe I was thrown out of some of the best schools in Europe when I was a kid, but it's not exactly something I'm all that proud of…"

Robin caught Speedy's eye and gave him an encouraging smile. Speedy smiled back. Bird-boy was all right. A real friend.

"And no more unsupervised absences…We're partners, after all! From here on in, it'll be just you'n me, kid! Green Arrow and Speedy!"

The green light finally came on.

As the safety hatch opened, they were greeted by the smiling face of Black Canary.

"Ollie!" she cried, running into GA's arms. "I'm so happy to see you again! Oh, you don't know how worried I've been. Ollie if you ever do something like this again, I'll break every bone in your body!" The threat in her voice was real.

"Dinah…honey…let me explain," GA began, slowly backing off.

Speedy stood to the side, feeling uncomfortable. The old feeling of being left out began to overwhelm him again.

Sure, things were so going to be different, he thought. He felt a hand on his shoulder. His heart leaped. Ollie, he thought! He looked up into the warm brown eyes of Green Lantern.

"Thank you for saving my life, Speedy. I'll never forget it. Anytime you need anything…even if it's just to talk, I'm here for you." He handed Speedy a card. "Call me…day or night."

Speedy watched GL walk away. He thought about throwing away Hal Jordan's business card, but in the end, he kept it.

"Red," BC's quiet voice spoke behind him. He stiffened at the sound, but didn't turn. "Please, Red…I want us so much to be friends. Red, I love Ollie, too. Please…?" Speedy heard the quiet sincerity in her voice. Blinking rapidly, he finally nodded.

No matter what Ollie said, he knew that it would never be just the two of them any more.

"Sure, Pretty Bird," he said with false bravado. "We'll be one, big happy family…just the three of us…"

"Roy…hey, kid," GA began, but Speedy began moving away.

"I've gotta go check on something with, uh, Robin," he said, glancing back. GA and BC stood together at the end of corridor, watching helplessly as he hurried away. "Robbie, uh, mentioned something about a, uh, meeting at the Lair later this month!"


"Robbie, guess what?" Kid Flash stood between Batman and Robin in a blink. The Dynamic Duo actually looked startled at his sudden appearance. "Uncle Barry says that I can come and stay with him and Aunt Iris over Spring Break. If you're not doing nothing, maybe you could come?"

Robin looked meaningfully over Kid Flash's shoulder at Batman, who was standing behind the junior speedster. Kid Flash stiffened, finally noticing the menacing presence of the Dark Knight. He turned sheepishly and shyly addressed Batman.

"That is…if it's okay with you, sir…" The teen speedster's voice ended in a tiny squeak.

Batman floored them both by giving Kid Flash a half-smile.

"Secret identities not withstanding, I'm sure we can work something out." He turned without further word. The two boys high-fived each other in their excitement.

"Way cool, Robbie! Come on! Let's go tell Uncle Barry!"


"That was very generous of you, Bruce," Superman said. They were both alone in the JLA lounge.

Batman didn't turn from the panoramic view of the Earth spinning below. After several minutes of silence, he finally spoke.

"Dick needs his friends. Wally is a good boy, brave and loyal. I think they'll both be good for each other."

"Is that the only reason?" Superman asked.

"No," Batman admitted quietly. "I've learned that we're not alone here. One man can't do it all." He paused. Superman didn't say anything; he knew what it was taking for Batman to openly admit this.

"We all needed each other while we were out there. More than anything, I discovered how much I need my boy by my side…I can't deny his place in my life…nor can I deny the importance of his friends in his. As much as Batman needs Robin…Robin needs the Titans."

Batman looked up. He held Superman's eyes steadily.

"And I can't deny the importance of my friends, either."

Superman's eyes smiled warmly. Neither man said anything further. Nothing further needed to be said.


"Promise to call me?" Wonder Girl asked tentatively. She was worried about Speedy. He seemed too happy.

"Of course, Wonder Doll!" Speedy assured her. "But, I'm probably gonna be kinda busy. See Ollie's setting some new rules and all. I'll probably be forced to do my homework from now on! He also said something about a 'bedtime'! Can you b'lieve that?"

He laughed, a bit too brightly.

"Roy, something's wrong…I know it! What is it?"

"Wrong? What could possibly be wrong, Donna? I mean, Ollie, me, and Dinah…we're gonna be one big, happy family! You'll see!"

"Dinah's moving in with you?" Wonder Girl asked quietly. Speedy nodded, smiling.

"Yeah, isn't that great?"

Wonder Girl looked sadly at the boy of her heart. "I'm sorry, Roy. I know how much you wanted--"

"--Are you kidding, Wonder Doll?" Speedy interrupted. "Things are gonna be great!" He started walking away. "Look, kid, I'll give you a call! Tomorrow at the latest! I promise! Hey, fly safely!"

He waved and spinning around, he started jogging, disappearing around the bend in the corridor.

Wonder Girl felt a warm hand on her shoulder. She looked up into her sister's understanding eyes. Feeling her heart breaking, Wonder Girl threw her arms around Wonder Woman.

"There, there, little one," Wonder Woman soothed. "Let's go home. Mother impatiently awaits our return."


"I shall have our scientists investigate this new, strange ability of yours, Minnow," Aquaman was saying. "I promise you that we shall discover what this remarkable power is--"

"No!" Aqualad cried. "I don't need any doctors or scientists poking and prodding me! I won't sit still for it!"

"Watch your tongue, boy!" Aquaman roared. "Remember whom you address!"

Aqualad's normally gentle eyes burned in anger.

"I thought I was addressing my mentor…and my foster father! Apparently, as always, I was mistaken."

"Minnow, I didn't mean--"

"No! You did mean it! I'm as nothing to you! Just another loyal vassal to the King! Well, no more! I am myself! And I have certain rights…rights that even a King cannot take." Aqualad spoke with a deadly fierceness that Aquaman had never heard before.

"Garth, that is not true! You are my foster son…in name and in my heart. You are as much my son as Arthur, Junior."

Aqualad sadly shook his head. "If I could but believe that, my liege." He faced his King. "I swore my loyalty and fealty to you when you first found me, alone and discarded. I stand by my oath to you, Arthur…and on my honor, I shall never betray you or your progeny." He walked up to his King and met him eye to eye.

"But I am my own person. I do not understand this power that grows within me, but it is mine…it is a part of me, of my unknown heritage. I do not know if I shall ever be able to call it forth again, or if it is something that manifests itself only in times of great stress. Whatever it is, I demand the right of self-discovery…the right to explore it on my own, without your scientists' interference."

His eyes became pleading. "Please, Arthur. Allow me this one thing…and I swear on my honor that should I ever learn to control it, this power will never be turned against you or the people of Atlantis."

Aquaman placed his hand on his young protege's shoulder.

"Minnow…you need not swear oaths to me. You are the son of my heart. I know that you would never turn against our people or me. In you, I have only faith and trust."

Aqualad felt his chest tighten. As he looked up his mentor, his soft, violet eyes spoke for him.


"So dinner on Saturday, Barry?"

"Yeah, Ray," the Flash said. "Iris is really excited about this. You're sure you want to ask Jeanne with us there? I mean proposing to the girl of your dreams is something normally done at an expensive restaurant with a candlelight dinner."

"I can't think of two people I'd rather have there than you and Iris," the Atom said quietly. "I've put this off for way too long…I've been afraid about bringing Jeanne into my crazy, mixed-up, superpowered life. But now…"

"What made you change your mind?" the Flash asked curiously. They were interrupted by Kid Flash and Robin stumbling into the gleaming JLA labs.

"UncleBarry!You'renotgonnabelievethis!BatmansaidokayandRobbiecancomeoverduringSpringBreak!Isn'tthatgreat?" Unable to contain his excitement, Kid Flash speed-talked. The two JLA'ers smiled at the boy's exuberance.

"That is good news, Wally," the Flash said. "Robin, I'll look forward to your visit…Tell me, son, do you know how to fly fish?"

Robin shook his head. "No, sir. I've never been fishing in my whole life."

"Fishing?! Aw, jeez, Uncle Barry! Not fishing again. Robbie's a city boy…he'll be bored to tears."

"Are you kidding, Flasheroo?" Robin said, giving his friend a slight shove. "I think it sounds great. Doctor Allen, I really appreciate the invitation. Come on, Wally…you can tell me more about Blue Valley and Central City."

"Fishing?" Kid Flash grumbled. "Aw, jeez…!"

When the Teen Titans left the room, the Atom turned to his friend.

"They're the reason I've finally decided to ask Jeanne to marry me. I haven't made it a secret that I felt a bit reticent about bringing children into this life. What if something happened to them? How could their mentors justify endangering their lives?" He paused, slightly embarrassed.

"I guess you can't deny someone the life that they were born to live, regardless of how old they are. The Teen Titans have proven that they are every bit as courageous and able as their mentors. They've proven their right not only to stand at their partners' sides, but to also work both individually and as a team. They're all great kids, Barry. I'm proud to've met them and to've had a chance to work with them."

"I'll pass that on to Wally," the Flash said simply.

The Atom nodded and continued. "I've long felt uncomfortable about asking Jeannie to share my life with me for the very same reasons…What if something were to happen to me? What if someone discovered who I was and decided to take revenge on her?"

He looked reflectively at the Flash. "But I've found out that I can't live on 'What if's.' I'm a scientist. I deal in facts. And the fact is that I can't live without Jeanne. If she'll have me, then I'll share everything with her. And if she and I are even one-half as happy as you and Iris, then I'll consider myself a lucky man."


Dick knelt at his window seat, his elbows on the windowsill. He gazed at the night sky with new eyes. Tonight each star was a potential sun around which revolved as yet unknown planets upon which as yet unknown races lived out their lives.

"Up there somewhere is another kid, looking up at his night sky, and spotting our sun," Dick murmured. "Does he wonder if our star has planets that might have life?"

Dick sighed.

"What is it, chum?" Bruce's quiet voice spoke from the doorway. Not turning, Dick shrugged his shoulders.

"Nothing."

"I see." Bruce walked up to his ward and sat next to him. He craned his neck to look out the window with him.

"It must've been lonely," Dick said quietly.

"Yes," Bruce agreed. Dick leaned slightly against Bruce. Hesitating briefly, Bruce placed his arm around his boy's shoulder.

THE END

 
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